February 6, 2014 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Defense calls for new trial in Marine murder case
Marine Barracks, gay news, Washington Blade

Witnesses said Lance Corp. Phillip Bushong was stabbed in the upper chest with a pocketknife on 8th Street, S.E., across the street from the Marine Barracks. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court judge has postponed the sentencing of a former U.S. Marine convicted in December of voluntary manslaughter for the April 2012 stabbing death of a fellow Marine following an altercation in which he reportedly called the victim an anti-gay name.

The postponement of the sentencing set for Feb. 7 came after Judge Russell Canan agreed to a request by defense attorney Bernard Grimm for more time to prepare a motion to request a new trial for his client, 22-year-old former Pfc. Michael Poth.

According to court records, Canan gave Grimm until March 24 to file his motion, known as a Rule 33 Motion, for a new trial. Canan directed prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office to file a response to the defense motion by April 21.

It couldn’t immediately be determined whether Grimm, who represented Poth during the trial, cited a reason for seeking a new trial rather than appealing the conviction before the D.C. Court of Appeals.

A Superior Court jury found Poth guilty of voluntary manslaughter on Dec. 2 following a 9-day trial. The jury found him not guilty of a more serious charge of second-degree murder while armed.

Poth has been held in jail since his arrest on April 21, 2012, minutes after witnesses said he stabbed Lance Corp. Phillip Bushong, 23, in the upper chest with a pocketknife on 8th Street, S.E., across the street from the Marine Barracks.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Liebman, the lead prosecutor in the case, stated at a pre-trial hearing last year that the stabbing appeared to be a hate crime. But the government never formally classified the case as a hate crime. Had it done so, the judge would have had an option of handing down a more severe sentence.

Liebman argued during the trial that Poth called Bushong a faggot when the two crossed paths on the street outside a bar on 8th Street near the barracks with the intent of provoking Bushong into a confrontation to give Poth an excuse to stab him.

He said the hurling of the anti-gay slur took place a short time after Bushong called Poth a “boot,” a term used by Marines to describe a new recruit that’s considered an insult. Liebman argued that the “boot” remark angered Poth to such a degree that he made plans to track down Bushong after the two initially went their separate ways with the intent to stab him and kill him.

Grimm argued that Poth stabbed Bushong in self-defense after Bushong, who was taller and heavier than Poth, walked toward him with a friend and pulled back his arm with a clinched fist in an attempt to assault him.

The D.C. group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence planned to submit a victims impact statement to the judge at the time of the sentencing describing how Poth’s use of an anti-gay slur immediately prior to the fatal stabbing had a negative impact on the LGBT community, according to GLOV co-chair Hassan Naveed.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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